Believe it or not, I’m two weeks shy of one year of living here in Burkina. I was thinking of how I could commemorate this and had a (hopefully) fantastic idea. I was reflecting on how occasionally I write a blog post and I never really know who reads it if really anyone at all. Thus, I concluded that maybe there are people out there (family, friends, random people stumbling upon this blog) who might have questions for me regarding life, work, service, going to the bathroom, etc. Or not. Well, I’m banking on the fact that maybe there are a few questions out there since I’m certain I’ve left at least a few things open ended over the past twelve months. And I am taking advantage of the fact that I will be in Ouaga for the week with internet. There.
So go ahead, ask away as a comment to this post! You can post it anonymously if you so choose! I’ll have internet each evening and will be able to respond. This will be fun.
Hope all is well.
PS: Our Camp HEERE was a great success. Expect a post devoted to the camp, and devoted to thanking everyone who donated to help make it a reality for roughly sixty young students in the Sourou Valley.
What kinds of sports do the kids in the village play? Just curious.
Good question, Nick. The ubiquitous sport of choice here of course soccer. The kid will play it with anything since soccer balls are hard to come by. They will always play it barefoot on rocks. I don’t know how they do it. In fact, someone tell Toms that even if the kids here were given a new pair of shoes, they wouldn’t want to wear them anyway. I know this for I have seen it. As for other sports, there are many improvised games that girls will play based on songs or chants. One morbid yet entertaining one is about a dead sister. A favorite game of boys is hoop rolling (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoop_rolling). That’s right, that fun pastime from the 18th century is still alive here in Burkina. Kids will also attach two sticks to an old tire and run around pushing it ahead of them. It took me a while to figure out that they were imitating a motorcycle. Other things considered sport are slingshots (boys) and jump-rope (girls). As far as physical activity is concerned, they do go to the well and pumps a lot as well as herding animals and working in the fields during the rainy season.
That was actually a great question. One of the concerns of our camp was giving the kids ample time for recreation and teaching through games and sport. You should also look at Coaching for Hope (http://www.coachingforhope.org/), which is a very popular program with PCV’s, teaching about HIV/AIDS through soccer. OK, that’s all I can think of, good question, and I’ll see you in December…maybe?
When you’ve grown up barefoot – as I did in South Africa – there is no problem playing barefoot on rocks. As kids, we would howl with laughter when watching adults walk barefoot – it was so silly because their feet were so sensitive. We could – and did – run barefooted on gravel roads while training for ‘sports day’, not because the gravel posed any special challenge, but because that was the road available. Remember Zola Budd? She was a [white] South African runner in the Olympics. She ran barefoot.
So, how DO you go to the bathroom? just kidding. I would like to know how you communicate with your counterpart. Is it in French? Or in Jula? How about the others in the village? I would also like to know how you feel that you have adapted and also how the other volunteers are/have adapted. I would also like to know what foods you miss most.
Well I communicate with my counterpart mostly in French. We’ll often greet each other in Jula but it doesn’t go farther than that. It’s usually an unspoken dynamic in which we both want to get things done, so fumbling around in Jula or Dafine just isn’t efficient. However, every now and then we have some impromptu Jula lessons. Others in the village, it’s usually all Jula or Dafine (which is basically like Jula). I’ll always greet in Jula unless I’m talking to school children, in which I will then greet in French. It’s good for them to practice. Nothing does beat the classic “smile-and-nod” though. It can get you through any situation. I feel I’ve adapted pretty well. That’s the easy part. Integration is what takes time. Those in smaller sites like mine tend to have an easier time, overall. But adapting is easy if this is the work/life you’re committed to. What foods do I miss? It’s hard to say. At site all food just ranges from a scale of of terrible to tolerable. And that’s not really a bad thing–you learn to deal with it. If you can’t get over the food situation, then it’s going to be a pretty tough two years of you cursing the fact that you didn’t get an assignment in SE Asia or South America. So I don’t really think too much about food I miss because it’s not a priority of mine, but if I had to pick, I’d say that burritos are definitely up there.
Do you have any time/interest in doing any composing while you’re there? It’s now three years since I heard your Mass, and the pleasure of that music is still with me – it helps that I have a CD, thanks.
Thanks Hal! I did bring my mandolin over here with me so I have been developing some melodies (roughly folk melodies) so maybe I will lay them down at some point. As far as actual composing is concerned, I don’t really have too much time or resources here for that. However, I do have plans kicking around in my head for some projects when I get back…
I would like to know if you interact much with women from your village–or is it primarily men who run the gardens and make all the decisions? Would it be inappropriate for you to talk with women in the village? Are there any supervisory roles for women in the village? Are there arranged marriages? Guess that’s more than one question–but I’d basically like to know how women fare in your town.
Hi Carole, very good and very loaded question. I’ll start with my interactions with women. Absolutely I can interact with women. Men and women in my area interact a great deal and they pay each other on the whole a great deal of respect. It’s proper practice to bend down to the ground and look away when greeting someone important and you will consistently see younger men performing this gesture when passing older women. So I am absolutely free to interact and socialize with women–my counterpart’s wife is one of my closest contacts in village. Men most often will make decisions for the family. However, men are more prone to leaving for Cote d’Ivoire during the dry season leaving the women to care for the family. While this is certainly unfair, it gives the women control over basically all family matters back in Koumbara. Gardening and selling in the market is almost exclusively a women’s activity, actually. The men will more work in the field during the rainy season, cultivating the staple crops. However, women will help with this as well. I will say, though, that one of the most frustrating and upsetting times at site was the celebration of Tabaski (Muslim new year). I went to another volunteer’s house where the women were feverishly cooking and cleaning and tending to the kids. And what did I go do with the men? I went to a bar, drank cokes, lounged, and ate grilled goat. All the while, the women were back at home working their asses off. This is common, and frankly, stupid. I tell young men in my village often that if they want to develop they need to stop lounging talking about how they have no money and get to work like their wives. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least I’m clearly stating my American sensibilities. I’m not too sure about arranged marriages. I don’t think they’re arranged in sense that we think about them. I think the couples are free to decide to marry but I’m sure families play a role. What is common in Koumbara–and everywhere, really–is polygamy. The government of Burkina Faso recognizes four wives. It’s the Muslims who do this, mainly, as Catholics do not really approve of the practice. However, keep in mind that the Qur’an is actually one of the fairest religious texts to women. I, personally, have my own house but am connected to a family courtyard. In it, the patron has three wives. They all get along just fine and he is a warm, gracious, and generous man who often times lets his youngest daughter sleep next to him outside. So my views on polygamy after being here moved from blanket distaste to a more nuanced view on the matter. One volunteer told me a story that some woman friend in her village told her that she should marry her husband so that they could hang out more. While it very much can work out, some will point to the fact that the practice, by nature, places women as less important than men because they, obviously, can’t take more than one husband. A problem of multiple wives is that it drives the birth rate up. If each wife has six children (roughly the average in Burkina), that’s not exactly helping Burkina’s population explosion. It’s up to all of us to decide how we feel about polygamy in rural African society. One thing that both sides can agree on is that this is a culture vastly different from our own and that viewing this practice within the confines of our own societal structure and sensibilities is simply pointless–it detrimentally skews the facts, rendering the arguments useless.
Don’t get me wrong, gender inequality is a serious problem in Burkina. In fact it’s a serious factor in holding the country back. How can you develop when about 90% of the women over fifteen years old can’t read or write? I suppose, however, I wanted to show you the shades of grey between the black and white. It’s very easy to have a clear view of right and wrong and of how things work, but one of the most disorienting things about living here is the fact that you so quickly realize how jumbled and nuanced these issues actually are. Thanks for the questions, Carole! I hope that answered them a bit!
I’m leaving in one week for pat in Sapone…should I bring by tropic screen with me, or can I save space and ship it to myself? What about my hammock?
Hi Amanda, I would say that you should probably bring your tropic screen with you. You never know, that might be good to have. The hammock is your choice. I’m sitting with a volunteer who brought a hammock and loves it but she didn’t use it at all during stage. Maybe that’s something that you could consider sending if it takes up too much space. Hope that helps!